Committee on public lands formed, Dec. 17, 1805
Posted by Committee Staff on December 17, 2009

On this day in 1805, the House of Representatives created the Committee on Public Lands, to help Congress manage the Louisiana Purchase Territory, newly acquired by President Thomas Jefferson from Napoleonic France. The acquisition, which stretched northwestward from New Orleans to Montana, covered more than 828,000 square miles.

A senior member of Congress, Rep. William Findley of Pennsylvania, proposed creating “a committee respecting the lands of the United States.” The panel weighed “all such petitions, and matters or things, respecting the lands of the United States, as shall be presented, or shall or may come into question, and be referred to them by the House; and to report their opinion thereupon, together with such propositions for relief therein, as to them shall seem expedient.”

As more territory continued to come under federal control, the Public Lands Committee gained jurisdiction over land sales, grants to railroads, efforts to curb speculation, national parks, conservation, forests and mineral and water rights. Under the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act, it absorbed the legislative and oversight roles of a host of other committees that had been created to deal with the nation’s expansion, including Private Land Claims, Mines and Mining and Insular Affairs.

The House currently assigns these matters mostly to the Natural Resources Committee. Once known as the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, it changed its name to the Natural Resources Committee in 1993. In 1995, its new chairman, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), shortened its name to the Resources Committee. After the Democrats regained control of the House in 2007, the prior title was restored.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), first elected in 2002, currently serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, while the parent committee is chaired by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who was first elected in 1976.

SOURCE: Historian, Clerk of The U.S. House

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